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NEA Survey: Artists are better educated and gaining ground against unemployment



Ramiro Gomez paints in a spare bedroom that he uses as a studio in his West Hollywood apartment. In 2013, an NEA analysis of census bureau data found that art directors, fine artists and animators had an unemployment rate of 4.7 percent.
Ramiro Gomez paints in a spare bedroom that he uses as a studio in his West Hollywood apartment. In 2013, an NEA analysis of census bureau data found that art directors, fine artists and animators had an unemployment rate of 4.7 percent.
Mae Ryan/KPCC

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A new analysis released Monday by the National Endowment for the Arts found that nationwide, artists are gaining back some of the jobs that they lost during the recession. In 2013, unemployment for artists stood at 7.1 percent, down from a jobless rate of 9 percent in 2009 and 2010.  Back in 2006, before the recession hit, the unemployment rate for artists was just 3.6 percent.

In addition, the new analysis found that in 2013, while 2.1 million people were working primarily as artists, another 271,000 people reported secondary jobs as artists in the U.S.  Those with secondary art careers included professionals  in a wide variety of jobs, including doctors, social workers, lawyers, librarians and clergy.   These secondary art careers  had been largely unrecognized following previous Census counts. 

This is good news for statisticians looking to quantify the number of artists in the U.S., according to Sunil Iyengar, the NEA's director of research & analysis. Speaking to KPCC, Iyengar pointed out that artists are often very mobile or self-employed, making them hard to count.

"We know that in the arts, artists are oftentimes hard to identify through large data sets because for one thing, they often have multiple jobs," he said. "We were able to dig deeper."

The latest findings also show that artists have higher education levels than the general workforce: 65 percent held at least a bachelor's degree, compared to 32 percent of U.S. workers overall. 

"[Artists] are highly skilled. These are very specialized skills oftentimes that require a high degree of training," Iyengar said. "I think the arts somehow invite that spirit of curiosity, engagement and even intellectual growth that might be reflected here in some of these numbers."

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The details of the analysis are available online and derived from Census Bureau statistics in the Current Population Survey of 60,000 U.S. households. A wide variety of jobs fall under the category of artist used in the analysis, including dancers, sporting event announcers, tattoo artists, jewelry designers and musicians. 

Other major findings:

The findings, called "Keeping My Day Job: Identifying U.S. Workers Who Have Dual Careers As Artists," represent the third installment in the NEA's look at national arts data sets. The other two analyses are available on the NEA's website.